June 18, 1915 - Dilemmas -
---- 10:15 AM, bridge of Strassburg, course 030, speed 22 knots
Three tall splashes appeared along the near-side of their target, the
last of the trio of AMCs that had been to the north of Niobe, whose
bow still poked out of the water off Strassburg's starboard after
quarter. A previous salvo had thrown up water out of sight of Strassburg's
crew, outboard of the AMC. The other two AMCs were dead in the water,
each the base of a tower of smoke and flame. The one that had taken 280
mm hits was listing and down in the stern, while Strassburg's first
target listed somewhat but remained on a more even keel. It was a dramatic
sight for the passengers on the German liners, for the civilian yachtsmen
on their pleasure craft, and for the Americans on their warships.
Kommodore von Hoban, though, looked only at their present target. Previously,
she'd taken at least two 150 mm hits in the general area of her bridge.
Her bow gun had gone silent several minutes ago. Her plight was hopeless.
Things had just gotten a lot worse for the Brit. Von der Tann had
just scored her first hit somewhere on the stern. A near miss had landed
close aboard forward, throwing spray onto her forequarter. The Britisher
turned hard to starboard, steam puffs flickering at the fore of her stack.
Moments later, the plaint of her steam whistle could be heard above the
sounds of battle. Someone, thought the Kommodore, was wrenching away at
the whistle's lanyard as though his very life depended on it.
"Cease fire! Cease fire!"
Another set of three splashes loomed out of the sea, missing close ahead
only because the AMC, white cloths now seen to be waving frantically at
two locations along her bridge rail, was slowing and turned aside from
her previous heading.
"Signals Officer, three longs - now!
"Captain, approach close aboard - take her."
"Aye, aye, Herr Kommodore," replied Captain Siegmund with great
feeling. "Right 5 degrees rudder. Come to course 050."
"Sir, my rudder is right 5 degrees ..."
"Muster the boarding party...," Siegmund began.
"And, Captain," von Hoban added as the men began to respond,
"please pass the word for LT Lionel. I'll meet him there."
---- 10:15 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 350, speed 20 knots
Sir! Target has pulled up. Her wake is .... She's stopping, sir."
"Cease fire!" Captain Dirk shouted. "Left 8 degrees rudder."
"Sir, my rudder is coming left ..."
They saw that Strassburg's distant profile had already narrowed
as she put her rudder over to head for the AMC. Dirk steadied himself,
as his own deck canted, and began to estimate ....
"Recommend 135, sir," offered CDR Bavaria, his eyes to the
"Come to course 135," ordered Dirk. He raised an eyebrow at
"... my rudder is left 8, coming to course 135."
"Keeps us well off line from the Americans," said the XO, nodding
vaguely at the tall cagemasts nearly Due East, "while letting us
lay three turrets on the last Britishers."
Dirk nodded and raised his glasses.
---- 10:16 AM, bridge of New York, course 030, speed 6 knots
"Admiral, the Germans have ceased firing on the last one to the
northeast. Strassburg has turned to close her."
The last AMC to the northeast must be trying to surrender. Having seen
three others smashed to pieces, themselves hit several times, unable to
reply, and unable to escape, Alton decided that he shouldn't be too surprised.
Yes, he spied a bit of white showing in her forward superstructure. He
looked again at the other two AMCs who had been with her; they were dead
and in the process of burning out.
"Admiral, the battlecruiser is turning to port. She looks to be
going to go after the others."
There had to be something that he could do. Anything. He commanded decisive
force but there was no way to use it. God, but he felt so damned impotent.
"Captain, come right, if you please. Place the squadron on 150."
The captain looked at the Signals Officer. "Smartly, captain, and
bring us to 8 knots."
"Aye, aye, sir. Helm, right 15 degrees rudder, come to course 150.
Make turns for 8 knots."
Alton wanted no delay and had no doubt that the Wyoming and the
others would follow his flagship. He raised his binoculars to take a last
look to the northeast, then pivoted to gaze to the southeast. He spared
hardly a glance at the other ships in his formation, and his watch remained
in his pocket.
"Signals Officer," Alton ordered, grimly, "for Aylwin,
they are to assist in rescue operations." The admiral paused, the
drumming of his fingers on a stanchion hinted at internal tensions. "And
Montana," he added, after a moment. "Montana to
take station off our starboard bow."
---- 10:17 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 270, speed 22 knots
"Crack-crack!" Hits were being scored almost every third shot,
as their target had greatly slowed and the range was already under 10,000
yards, and dropping fast.
Captain Westfeldt looked over their target off their starboard bow. Flames
gushed brightly from two different gaping wounds and the smoke roiled
black and thick towards the sky. Though her speed had been dropping off
for the last several minutes, only now did she appear to be going dead
in the water. Yes, he thought, her bow was no longer pointing along her
previous course. As he watched, her aspect began to change. The waves
now ruled her heading, not her rudder. The two undamaged AMCs were more
to the north - further from Rostock, but closer to von der Tann
and, presumably, closer to Strassburg.
"Cease fire," he ordered. "New target ..."
The next AMC was just now coming into range. The third, originally the
northernmost of this trio, was on a course almost exactly west. She might
well make it to US waters, unless one of the other German warships could
A final round went out and ... into ... their first target. Its detonation,
if there'd been one, was lost in the roaring flames.
A splash, then another, showed off their starboard beam, about 400 yards
distant, and short. It appeared that the next AMC had recognized Rostock
as their imminent threat. The line of sight to the AMC was partly fouled
by the billowing smoke from their first kill. In fact, she might have
altered her course a bit southerly to block fire from her prospective
"Right 3 degrees rudder," Westfeldt ordered. "Come to
course 330. Ready - port side guns."
---- 10:18 AM, small boat (Strassburg)
"Lieutenant, I'm placing you in command ...," was still echoing
in his ears when the Atlantic greeted LT Lionel with a cold slap of wave
crest foam. He glanced back and recognized that his craft had just emerged
from the bit of lee afforded by the German warship. The cruiser's guns
remained trained on the AMC off his own bow. There, the second boat was
free and already closing up with them.
"... secure the ship ..."
The young German turned and looked ahead at what was about to become
his first command. He swallowed. He'd been the obvious choice - that he
understood. After all, he was supercargo and the Kommodore knew he spoke
English. But the canvas-wrapped bundle in his lap was weightier than worlds.
He swallowed again.
---- 10:19 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 135, speed 18 knots
"Steady on 135."
"Range to target 17,000 yards, sir."
"Captain, the Americans are turning, possibly towards us."
Dirk shrugged. "Open fire," he ordered. Nonetheless, he cast
wary glances at the dreadnought force off his starboard beam, waiting
to see if they were trying to intervene, or if they were simply reversing
course as part of their patrol beat. He was not, however, about to let
them stop him. The American dreadnoughts were still at least 7,500 yards
WNW of the fleeing AMC, closer to 10,000 yards, perhaps.
There'd been seven Britishers in this latest batch, he recalled. They'd
put down four - five, counting Rostock's target - but it was not
clear if they'd get the last two.
"So many targets, so little time," commented CDR Bavaria in
a low voice, echoing his captain's thoughts.
"Boom-boommm." Their first 280 mm salvo went out, the three
guns almost merging their sounds.
"Ja," Dirk nodded, in agreement. "With Moltke here,
as well, this would have gone quickly."
They paused to watch the fall of shot. Jets of water showed in their
quarry's wake. Short, but only by a couple hundred yards or so, and tightly
"However," Dirk continued, "if the admiral had delayed
to shift his flag, they all might have escaped."
It was his XO's turn to nod. The second salvo went out.
---- 10:20 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 330, speed 21 knots (increasing)
The port gunners had had to stand by as the starboard crews got all the
action. Until now. Their rate of fire reflected their enthusiasm. The
men at the two bow guns, however, were beginning to show the effects of
a full hour of almost constant firing. So was their ammo supply, as they
had shot out their ready stocks and most of the rest, as well. The loaders
and ammo handlers were wet with sweat, bands of cloth were draped about
their necks and heads.
Westfeldt grunted. The first rounds were well short. The range must be
closer to 13,000 yards than the 12,000 yards that had been estimated.
The next ones were better, and the splashes began to march towards their
target, whose own rounds were landing astern and to starboard. Still,
it was nearly extreme range. Even as he watched, Westfeldt saw their quarry
altering course to put them more directly astern. His present course would
let them get out of range in moments.
It was not going to be enough, he concluded, even after a second hit
"Come left, course 290."
It would have to be up to the bow gunners, after all.
---- 10:21 AM, launch (Moltke)
"Achtzehn," LT Lionel called over to the Master of Arms petty
officer, "three with wounds."
Two rafts now lay alongside the battlecruiser. Where they had come from,
Lionel was unsure, but one was being used as a receiving point. Its pitching
deck was dark with huddled forms. A stretcher with one figure was being
hoisted up to the deck above. Others could be seen making their way up
a ladder. Trails of smoke, not all from her stacks, threaded into the
"Eighteen, aye, aye, sir."
Captain Theargus tore his gaze from that raft, the few score of men visible
were a tiny fraction of the British crews, and over to the other. On the
second raft, German sailors were intently examining something, presumably
the Allied handiwork. He coughed, drew breath in hard through his nose,
then spat over the side, the red sputum lost in the waves. The numbness
was leaving his arm, and the pain was growing. At least the urge to cough
seemed to be ebbing.
"Looking a bit worse for wear, isn't she?" Theargus commented
loudly, more for his men than for anything else. There was little response.
Losing one's ship is like losing one's right arm. Theargus had lost one
and broke the other, and might well have preferred it the other way around.
He knew despair to be a grievous, potentially mortal wound all its own,
and the Aussie officer marked it in all those he saw. It had all happened
too fast, he realized. Losing a desperate battle was one thing, but they
had expected victory, had been expecting it for days, and an easy one
at that as part of an overwhelming force. The overwhelming force, however,
turned out not to have been theirs. And it had all come apart in just
minutes. Those below decks had never learned how the roles had reversed,
Meanwhile, Lionel had flushed, not knowing his game.
"Yes, your ships died well," he replied in a cold fury, after
a moment of mental translation. "Every one of them."
"There be worse epitaphs than that," the Aussie muttered, his
face greying as he tried to step out of the boat.
"Better to live," said Lionel, as he handed the other over
to the men on the raft.
---- 10:22 AM, bridge of Kolberg, course 260, speed 16 knots
LCDR Dahm had altered course shortly after the hour. Salamis,
3,000 yards astern, had promptly done the same. He'd been confident then
and had even less doubt now.
"Trust the Kommodore," Dahm thought, "and Hanzik, to post
signs for us."
"Signals, inform the Admiral that we have them in sight. Give our
course and speed. Rendezvous estimate - 90 minutes."
Dahm could not see what was at the bases of the tall black towers now
dead ahead on the horizon. Whatever they were, he hoped they weren't German.
He knew he was assuming that Hanzik's force, some of them, at least, had
remained near the plumes. It seemed safe enough.
"Ah, First Lieutenant Diele," Dahm said, as the other officer
stepped near. The very young Acting-CO was gratified to see that the even-younger
LT appeared much steadier in this, his second visit to the bridge. Most
of the "evidence" had been removed in the last hour, but much
Gut, he thought. He would have called him to the bridge in another few
minutes anyway. There was no one else too near, and there were issues
to be faced.
"Acting-XO, I should've said," Dahm corrected himself, looking
for a reaction. The other just nodded; good, he thought, again. Dahm had
joined Kolberg the day before they had left port. He didn't know much
about this young man beyond his name and rank - LT Peter David Diele.
There simply hadn't been time. Neither, of course, did Diele know him,
Dahm. The captain that the crew had known - and possibly lionized - had
died where they both now stood, Diele ramrod straight and Dahm hunched
over, one arm wrapped around his ribcage. Well, "died" was also
a bit of a euphemism, Dahm recognized, considering what had greeted their
eyes here. Nonetheless, Dahm, a stranger, had become the new "father
figure" for the tight little family of the light cruiser.
"It will be my duty to report to the Kommodore, or possibly the
Admiral. In 90 minutes. A full report will be required, and I'll want
to transfer our prisoners at that time. XO," Dahm paused, unable
to word the next part well, "ladders are a bit of a problem for me,
just now, so I leave it to you to assemble the information that I will
need. Besides our damage, fuel, and ammo, the Kommodore will certainly
ask if this ship needs any replacements. Including officers."
He'd been in command for less than two hours. An hour since he'd ordered
them back underway, possibly, just possibly, leaving men in the water.
"So, Mr. Diele, if you, or the crew, have any opinion as to how
I should answer the Kommodore .... Well, if so, it's best I hear them
before I go to report."
"No, sir." Diele was startled into staring afresh at the slender
officer, whose posture made no attempt to conceal his infirmity. If he
had gotten that right, he'd just been asked if the crew would accept him
as CO and if Diele was ready to continue as XO. Ach du lieber Himmel!
Diele opened his mouth to say more, and hesitated, mouth still partly
agape. He realized then that Dahm did not know how others, including the
crew, saw him. That his nonchalant demeanor bespoke of steadiness, of
adaptability, of readiness to deal with whatever Fate or the British sent
him. How could he tell him that?!
"Sir," is what he finally got out, "with your permission,
I'd like to have the pharmacist's mate report to the bridge. A tight wrap
would provide a lot of support."
"Thank you, XO."
Dahm closed his eyes as the other officer left. Yes, he thought, a wrap
might help, but Diele had already provided the support he'd needed most.
---- 10:23 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 135, speed 20 knots
The Britisher was proving to be an elusive target. She had gotten up
to 15 knots - and might still be accelerating - and had declined to remain
on any one course. The range was dropping slowly, and she was salvo chasing
with well-founded desperation.
"Sir, the Americans have steadied up on course 150."
That was good news, of course, but he might have to abandon this target
in a few minutes. While he refused to let the Americans intimidate him,
his orders were not to antagonize them. In fact, they were direct and
absolute in that regard.
"Long - all shells long."
---- 10:23 AM, bridge of Rostock, course 290, speed 22 knots
I'd taken them nearly three minutes to land another, but they were beginning
to close the gap. The enemy was obviously straining to increase her speed,
but she'd probably never in her whole life made the 22 knots of her pursuer.
Westfeldt had considering ordering more turns himself, but knew accuracy
would greatly deteriorate. The AMC's stern gun was doubtless suffering
from just that, as their shell splashes showed no particular pattern.
Hell, the whole after quarter of the ex-merchant was probably threatening
to shake itself to pieces under the present strains of prop and rudder.
It was a wonder her crew could operate her stern gun at all.
Not that he didn't have his own problems. Rostock's Gunnery Officer
apparently had sent forward additional loaders and others to help manhandle
the heavy shells. The ones they'd relieved remained there, collapsed near
There might have been another, too far forward to be seen. Smoke began
to trail back, separate from that from her stacks.
---- 10:24 AM, bridge of Nottingham Star, stopped
"I accept the surrender of this vessel, in the name of Kaiser Wilhelm
II," LT Lionel had pronounced, in ringing tones.
There'd been no applause. No trumpets had proclaimed in triumph nor drums
rolled in flourish. There'd been only a sullen silence from the three
tattered, smoke-blackened men who had lowered the ladderway. No officer
had been there to hand over his sword - they were likely all dead, Lionel
had concluded. It was flat. Anti-climactic. But it was enough.
The Britishers had continued to offer no resistance whatsoever to his
boarding party. He had expected none, of course, with the white cloths
on the Britisher's rail topside and the black mouths of Strassburg's
guns alongside. He had, nonetheless, kept two of the rifle toting guards
with him, though he had sent the rest with the two damage control teams.
One team had been tasked to help put out the fires, and the other to ensure
there'd be no scuttle attempts. He had yet to hear from either of them.
Lionel entered the shell-holed bridge of the AMC. There, on the deck,
based mostly on the uniforms, were the remains of at least two of the
missing officers. He would have to have them removed, but they'd need
canvas, and care. He handed the bundle that had so weighted upon him to
the bosun who had accompanied him, and then stepped out on the wing to
It was but the work of a few moments, and the flag of Germany ascended
He felt a lump swell in his throat but, yet, the cheers from alongside
surprised him still.
---- 10:24 AM, Chocorua Princess, course 070, speed 7 knots
The owner's companion had quite a temper.
"Nathaniel Hawthorne Benson Lannon, you listen to me! They're all
shooting at each other! They'll be shooting at us next. You're going to
get us killed!"
"Claire, we're safe, I tell you. The Germans are shooting at the
British and the British are shooting at the Germans. We're Americans.
No one's going to be shooting at us. Heck, America is not even in their
"Nate," called Nik from his stirrup perch part way up the mast.
"They're men in the water out there. They're not going to last very
"Hah!" Claire retorted. "How do THEY know we're Americans?!"
"Uh, you're right. You're absolutely right," Lannon agreed,
and he pivoted sharply.
"So, you're going to turn back?"
"No," he replied, as he rummaged in a locker, "but I do
have a flag in here, someplace."
"Omigod!" Nik's companion exclaimed.
"What, Maggie?" Claire asked, as Lannon searched.
"That ship. She's coming almost right at us, isn't she?"
"Ohh!" A large fireball burst on the oncoming ship, now under
a mile away. Moments later, the sound reached them.
---- 10:24 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 135, speed 20 knots
There had actually been two hits. The second one had thrust deep into
an after hold, but had failed to explode.
The AMC swerved harder than before, then began to swing back again, almost
onto her immediately previous course. Three splashes rose majestically
alongside her, detonating in the sea close aboard. It had become a duel
of sorts between the German Gunnery Officer and the British Captain.
"The AMC must have lost a bit more way in those last turns,"
---- 10:25 AM, bridge of New York, course 150, speed 8 knots
The drama was playing out off his port bow now. It's end appeared foreordained.
Rear-Admiral Alton's glasses watched as the tall jets of foam peaked
and began to subside, no more than 500 yards ahead of that damn fool and
his sailboat. The clown was doing something there with his lines, frantically.
He cursed under his breath. Then, suddenly, smiled. And began to shout
---- 10:27 AM, bridge of von der Tann, course 135, speed 20 knots
The flash of the explosion had been amidships. The rudder angle that
had let the Britisher escape a minute ago had come back to haunt them,
Dirk thought. They had the target solution now.
"Gott in Himmel!" Dirk exclaimed. For the barest moment only,
he hesitated, torn by conflict.
"Cease fire! Cease fire!" Dirk shouted.
The lead American dreadnought had just opened fire with her two forward
turrets. They had not been aimed at the Germans, or at anyone. They probably
had not even had shells loaded, but the message was clear enough.
"Our heading?" Bavaria commented.
"Ja," agreed Dirk. "Helm, left three degrees rudder, come
to 180. Ahead 2/3 - make turns for 8 knots. Gunnery Officer, train all
Dirk watched as their target, trailing a great, ragged plume of smoke,
continued towards American waters.
"Rostock also has broken off," reported Bavaria. The
light cruiser's target had obviously been hit many times, though. Visible
flames could be seen on her as she, too, made for the American coastline.
He pointed that out to his captain.
"Ja, ja," answered Dirk in disgust. "Damn the Americans.
Damn them! Why did they interfere? The Britishers were still miles from
their 3-Mile Limit. Miles!"
"It's another version of the Golden Rule,' sir," Bavaria
remarked. "He who has the dreadnoughts makes the rules."